Biggest One-on-One Matchups to Watch in NFL Week 2
Per usual, it was another intriguing debut week for the National Football League. A few rookies showed signs of stardom, numerous veterans showed they still had plenty of life, and many predictions went right out the proverbial window.
Of course, it certainly wasn’t hunky dory for all. Especially those quarterbacks making their regular-season debuts against “real” defenses, as Andrew Luck, Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden all found out the hard way. The first-round trio combined for 10 interceptions.
Veteran quarterback Jay Cutler struggled similarly in the 23-10 loss to the Packers on Thursday night of Week 2. Including their 2010 playoff meeting, it marked the fifth time in seven games against defensive coordinator Dom Capers' Green Bay unit that the Bears quarterback threw at least two interceptions.
So what are the best battles that could decide the games in Week 2? We march on.
Texans RB Arian Foster vs. Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew
When the Houston Texans visit Jacksonville on Sunday, we’ll get to see the last two players to lead the NFL in rushing.
Last week, Arian Foster totaled 26 carries for 79 yards and a pair of touchdowns in Houston’s win over the Miami Dolphins. Meanwhile, Maurice Jones-Drew (off his summer-long holdout) didn’t start vs. the Minnesota Vikings, but he did finish, running for a team-high 77 yards at the Metrodome as Rashad Jennings went down during the game.
Somewhat surprising was the fact that Foster caught just one pass (for minus-four yards) versus Miami. You could probably expect that to change against the Jaguars defense.
Raiders WR Darrius Heyward-Bey vs. Dolphins CB Sean Smith
Yes, Oakland’s top wideout from a year ago caught just three passes for 43 yards in Monday night’s loss to the San Diego Chargers. But who expected running back Darren McFadden to have nearly as many receptions (13) as rushing attempts (15) last week?
Of course, neither Denarius Moore nor Jacoby Ford played last week. That made it tough for the speedy Heyward-Bey to get loose, hence quarterback Carson Palmer spent the evening nibbling instead of taking some big bites.
Moore returns this week, and while he hopes to preoccupy cornerback Richard Marshall, the Raiders’ leading pass-catcher from 2011 hopes to do some damage deep, too.
Last year, the Raiders' promising season began to come apart after a Week 13 loss at Miami, which was the beginning of a disappointing 1-4 finish after a 7-4 start. It would be fitting if they could jump-start their 2012 campaign with a win in South Florida.
Ravens S Ed Reed vs. Eagles QB Michael Vick
The ball-hawking safety got career pick No. 58 last week, tied for 10th in NFL history. If Michael Vick spreads the pigskin around this week as he did in Cleveland, the ascent up the charts will continue for Ed Reed, the perennial Pro Bowl safety.
Reed, now the league’s all-time leader in interception return yards, also knows something about big plays when it comes to facing the Philadelphia Eagles.
In 2008, Andy Reid benched starting quarterback Donovan McNabb in the second half at Baltimore in favor of Kevin Kolb, who threw a ball to Reed in the end zone. The big-play performer took it 107 yards for a score, the longest interception return in NFL annals.
If Vick and company are off their game again, it’s safe to say that Philadelphia won’t get away with such a performance a second consecutive week.
Chiefs OLB Tamba Hali vs. Bills LT Cordy Glenn
Do you think the Kansas City defense—the secondary, in particular—missed the suspended Pro Bowler last Sunday against Atlanta?
Considering the success Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan had last week in picking up big chunks of yardage at Arrowhead Stadium (four pass plays for 25 or more yards) and the fact that the fifth-year signal-caller was sacked only once, Romeo Crennel is ecstatic that his best pass-rushing threat will be back on the field.
Tamba Hali will begin the season trying to get past Cordy Glenn, part of an offensive front that held the Jets without a sack last week despite a lopsided loss. Don’t be surprised if Buffalo head coach Chan Gailey tries to take advantage of an anxious Hali by making him the focal point of a Buffalo ground game that rolled up 195 yards last Sunday.
Saints Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo vs. Panthers QB Cam Newton
Obviously, the coaching situation in New Orleans is what it is this season: Interim head coach Aaron Kromer is filling in for other interim head coach Joe Vitt who—suspended for the first six games himself—is replacing suspended head coach Sean Payton.
Steve Spagnuolo’s first regular-season game at the helm of the Saints defense may be one he’d like to forget. Washington Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III went 19-of-26 for 320 yards and a pair of touchdowns while sacking the former Heisman Trophy winner only twice.
Griffin also ran for 42 yards on nine carries, part of a ground game that totaled 153 yards on 43 attempts. No team in the league allowed more total yards (464) than the Saints in Week 1.
Exit Griffin and enter Cam Newton and the Panthers’ stable of backs, a group that certainly won’t be held to a ridiculous 10 yards rushing this week, as was the case in the loss at Tampa. Unless Spagnuolo finds a way to pressure the Carolina quarterback with his defensive front, the Cajuns could be in a bit of trouble.
Browns C Alex Mack vs. Bengals NT Domata Peko
It was a long afternoon for the Cleveland Browns offense in last week’s narrow 17-16 loss to the Eagles, to say the least.
Pat Shurmur’s team gained 210 total yards while the Browns’ offensive unit failed to score a touchdown in the setback. It also marked the sixth consecutive game and the 15th in the last 17 games that Shurmur’s club was limited to 17 or fewer points.
We haven’t even mentioned the team’s rookie duo of running back Trent Richardson and quarterback Brandon Weeden. The former totaled 44 yards on 20 touches, while the latter hit just over one-third of his pass attempts to go along with four interceptions.
If Weeden is to succeed, he will need a big assist from Richardson. Both will need help from the guys up front in the form of Alex Mack and left tackle Joe Thomas, who are this unit’s stars.
While the Bengals’ defensive front might not be quite as deep as that of the Eagles, it’s not too far behind. If Mack and company can’t handle Domata Peko and Geno Atkins inside, it could be another long day for the Browns.
Buccaneers CB Eric Wright vs. Giants WR Victor Cruz
It’s still amazing to consider that the Tampa Bay defense managed to hold the Panthers to a paltry 10 yards rushing—an amazing feat for any team, and even more impressive considering the Bucs were dead last against the run in 2011.
Still, that didn’t stop Cam Newton from finding Steve Smith seven times for 106 yards, a lot of that at the expense of Tampa's Eric Wright.
Now Wright meets wrong, as in the kind of night Victor Cruz had in the opening-game loss to the Dallas Cowboys. The speedy wideout dropped too many passes, looking downfield before he secured the ball. Cruz was targeted 11 times by Eli Manning but totaled only six receptions for 58 yards.
If the Buccaneers’ pass rush has another good outing—they sacked Newton three times—Greg Schiano’s return to New Jersey could be a pleasant one.
Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald vs. Patriots CB Kyle Arrington
A funny thing happened on the way to the Arizona Cardinals' come-from-behind win over the Seattle Seahawks last Sunday.
It was actually much-maligned quarterback Kevin Kolb who came off the bench in relief of an injured John Skelton and rescued Ken Whisenhunt’s club. Kolb took over what turned out to be the third play of an 11-play touchdown drive that put Arizona ahead to stay, 20-16.
Now Kolb gets the start. You can bet he’ll be looking at Larry Fitzgerald early and often against a New England Patriots defense that looked better last week at Tennessee but still has to prove it can’t be exploited by the better wideouts in the game.
Last week, Titans quarterback Jake Locker, making his first regular-season start, had his moments in the 21-point loss to the Patriots. It will be intriguing to see how Kyle Arrington and/or Devin McCourty handle one of the game’s most reliable offensive players.
Vikings RT Phil Loadholt vs. Colts LOLB Robert Mathis
While they settled for their share of field goals, the Minnesota offense was efficient in last week’s overtime win over the Jaguars.
The Vikings ran for 123 yards and enabled quarterback Christian Ponder to complete 20 of his 27 passes without seeing a lot of pressure.
Of course, that may change this week if Robert Mathis performs as he did last week. The converted defender opened the season by sacking Jay Cutler on the Bears' first play from scrimmage. By game’s end, he totaled five tackles and a pair of sacks.
It's safe to say this will be a tall order for Phil Loadholt and the Vikings offensive line in general.
Redskins LILB London Fletcher vs. Rams C Robert Turner
Washington’s leader in tackles every season with the team, the Pro Bowl defender managed only three stops in the Redskins’ surprise at the Superdome.
Of course, let’s not forget that Mike Shanahan’s club held the ball for just over 39 minutes against New Orleans. And since the Saints totaled just 32 yards on 10 rushing attempts, there were limited opportunities for Fletcher, to say the least.
That won’t be the case in St. Louis as Jeff Fisher will keep running back Steven Jackson busy. The perennial 1,000-yard rusher totaled 53 yards on 21 carries vs. the Lions, and added 31 yards receiving on four receptions.
With starter Scott Wells out with a broken foot, fellow free agent addition Turner gets the start at center for the Rams. And the one-time Jets' blocker will try and keep a hat and whatever else is necessary to prevent Fletcher from having his usual double-digit tackle day.
Cowboys LT Tyron Smith vs. Seahawks RDE Chris Clemons
During the offseason, the Dallas Cowboys looked to rectify their pass protection problems by signing a pair of free-agent guards in Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau. But it was another set of moves which were even more significant.
The Pokes flip-flopped their starting tackles, putting second-year pro Tyron Smith to the left side and Doug Free to the right. Last week against the Giants, quarterback Tony Romo was sacked twice but neither came from the outside, as Jason Pierre-Paul (who did get some pressure), Justin Tuck and Co. were held at bay for the most part.
Chris Clemons is the Seahawks’ best pass-rusher, totaling a team-high 11.0 sacks last season, and the defensive end had a sack and a forced fumble in last Sunday’s loss at Arizona. He may or may not make things interesting for Romo this week, especially if Smith has his problems with false starts at noisy CenturyLink Field.
Titans CB Alterraun Verner vs. Chargers WR Malcom Floyd
It was a long day for the Tennessee Titans defense last Sunday against that New England Patriots offense, which rolled up 390 total yards.
While facing Tom Brady and that New England passing attack is a chore for any opponent, keep in mind that Bill Belichick’s club ran for 162 yards on 35 carries last week at Nashville. So efficient were Brady and Co. that while Alterraun Verner was second on the team with nine tackles, he and the rest of his teammates were not credited with a defensed pass.
That should change this week, especially if San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers gets back to throwing the ball downfield with more frequency, something we didn’t necessarily see a lot of against the Raiders.
That is, unless the Tennessee pass rush, which produced an AFC-low 28 sacks last season and got to Brady just once last week, has made dramatic improvement in a week.
Jets Offense vs. Steelers Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau
We’re aware of the fact that the Jets put 48 points on the board last week against the Bills, and we're also cognizant of the fact that not all of it came via Mark Sanchez and Co.
Still, Tony Sparano’s unit totaled 384 yards on the afternoon, and Sanchez was sharp in the face of a Buffalo pass rush that failed to record a sack. Sanchez went 19-of-27 passes for 266 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Shonn Greene, despite a pair of fumbles, chipped in with 94 yards rushing and a score on 27 carries.
Pittsburgh’s shorthanded defense—minus outside linebacker James Harrison and free safety Ryan Clark—had their issues with Peyton Manning in Denver last Sunday night. The former’s availability is still in question.
If New York’s offensive front can control the Steelers’ front seven as they did the Bills, the Jets could walk out of Pittsburgh with a rare win.
Lions WR Calvin Johnson vs. 49ers CB Carlos Rogers
The NFL’s leader in receiving yardage (1,681) and No. 4 pass-catcher (96) from a season ago, Calvin Johnson got off to a solid start last week against the St. Louis Rams, although the Pro Bowl wideout did not score.
Johnson did total six receptions for 111 yards in his duel with the St. Louis secondary and had nearly one-third of Matthew Stafford’s yardage total (355). Nearly half of that real estate came on a 51-yard second-quarter grab.
Dating back to last season and including the playoff loss to the Saints, the All-Pro receiver has grabbed 42 passes for an astounding 882 yards and six touchdowns in his last five games.
We bring up those numbers because it’s safe to say that Carlos Rogers, off his first Pro Bowl season and a career-high six interceptions, figures to be in a battle all evening against not only Johnson but the Detroit receiving corps as well.
Especially if Jim Schwartz’s club is as one-dimensional on offense as they were last week (and last season).
Broncos RDE Elvis Dumervil vs. Falcons LT Sam Baker
Denver’s pass rush did most of its damage late against the Pittsburgh Steelers, with three of their five sacks coming on Pittsburgh’s final series of the evening.
Although Elvis Dumervil wasn’t in on the sack party, he did total four tackles and put some pressure on Ben Roethlisberger.
This week, the former Pro Bowler takes aim at one of the hotter quarterbacks in the league, Matt Ryan, who threw three touchdown passes in last week’s win at Kansas City. Dating back to the final four regular-season games of 2011, the Atlanta Falcons signal-caller has thrown for 13 scores and zero interceptions in his last five contests.
Ryan was sacked just once at Arrowhead Stadium last week, although the Chiefs were playing without their best pass-rusher, Tamba Hali.
It will be up to Sam Baker to make sure Dumervil is nonexistent on Monday night.